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It is well documented that individuals in couples tend to retire around the same time. But because women tend to marry older men, this means many married women retire at younger ages than their husbands. This fact is somewhat at odds with lifecycle theory that suggests women might otherwise retire at later ages than men because they have longer life expectancies, and often have had shorter careers on account of childrearing. As a result, the opportunity cost of retirement—in terms of foregone potential earnings and accruals to Social Security benefits—may be larger for married women than for their husbands. Using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), Maestas finds evidence that the returns to additional work beyond mid-life are substantial for married women, and much smaller for married men. The potential gain in Social Security benefits alone is enough to place married women on equal footing with married men in terms of Social Security wealth at age 70.
This paper was distributed as Working Paper 24429, where an updated version may be available.
To understand trends in elderly women's work decisions, a key question is the extent to which changes in Social Security have played a role. Gelber, Isen, and Song estimate the effect of Social Security benefits on women's employment rate by examining the Social Security “Notch,” which cut women's average Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) benefits substantially in the 1917 birth cohort relative to the 1916 cohort. This led to sharply different benefits for similar women born one day apart. Using Social Security Administration microdata on earnings in the full U.S. population by day of birth, the researchers find evidence for substantial effects of this policy change on elderly women's employment rate. The authors find that the slowdown in the growth of Social Security benefits in the mid-1980s can account for around one-third of the increase in the growth of older women’s employment that occurred during this period.
Black high school graduate women in current cohorts age 50-75 have lower employment than similar white women, despite having had higher employment when they were middle-aged and younger. Additionally, the gap between black and white women in white women’s favor has increased with each successive cohort of older women. While it is not surprising that white women’s employment should catch up to that of black women given trends in increasing female labor force participation, it is surprising that it should surpass that of black women. In this chapter, Lahey discusses factors that pull women into and out of employment and how they change over time for older black high school graduate women compared to similar white women.
Family care is a potentially critical factor in women’s labor supply decisions at older ages. In this paper, using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), Fahle and McGarry document the extent and intensity of family caregiving among a representative sample of women ages 50 or older. The authors define family caregiving broadly to include three types of care: care given to elderly parents and in-laws, care for spouses and partners, and care provided to grandchildren. The results indicate that parent - in-law and grandchild care are widespread during a woman’s prime working years. By age 65, 25 percent of women in the HRS had cared for a parent or in-law and nearly 60 percent had cared for a grandchild while just under 10 percent had provided care to a spouse. Focusing on the most prevalent types of care—to parents / in-laws and grandchildren—the authors estimate the effect of caregiving on labor market behavior and find that caregiving is associated with small but significant decreases in labor force participation and earnings. Furthermore, few women return to work after a spell of caregiving. These results indicate that the provision of care has the potential to affect economic well-being both immediately and in the longer-term.
This paper was distributed as Working Paper 22607, where an updated version may be available.
The goal of this paper is to ascertain whether older women’s current and anticipated future labor force patterns have changed over time, and if so, to evaluate the factors associated with longer work lives and plans to continue work at older ages. Using data from both the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), Lusardi and Mitchell show that older women’s current and intended future labor force attachment patterns are changing over time. Specifically, compared to their HRS baseline surveyed in 1992, more recent cohorts of women in their 50s and 60s are more likely to be working. When the researchers explore the reasons for delayed retirement among older women, factors include education, more marital disruption, and fewer children than prior cohorts. But household finances also play a key role, in that older women today have more debt than previously and are more financially fragile than in the past. Data from the NFCS show that factors associated with retirement planning include having more education and greater financial literacy. Those who report excessive amounts of debt and are financially fragile are the least financial literate, had more dependent children, and experienced income shocks. Thus shocks do play a role in older women’s debt status, but it is not enough to have resources: people also need the capacity to manage those resources, if they are to stay out of debt as they head into retirement.
This paper was distributed as Working Paper 22606, where an updated version may be available.
of Older Women
The Hidden Resources of Women Working Longer: Evidence from Linked Survey-Administrative Data
Changes in Marriage and Divorce as Drivers of Employment and Retirement of Older Women
Understanding why black women are not working longer
Teaching, Teachers Pensions and Retirement across Recent Cohorts of College Graduate Women
Older Women’s Labor Market Attachment, Retirement Planning, and Household Debt
Women Working Longer: Facts and Some Explanations
Trends in U.S. Spatial Inequality: Concentrating Affluence and a Democratization of Poverty